Cover Image: Still Life

Still Life

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Sometimes you cannot say goodbye to certain people because deep inside you know that your parting is only temporary and you will see each other whether it’s 2 days later or 20 years later. When Ulysses and Evelyn went their own ways on that night during WW2 after “special viewing” of an impressive art work in Italy, both knew that they could not say goodbye and wouldn’t be forgetting each other.

War was over and it was time for everyone to go home. Ulysses was back in London only to find his wife had a kid and asking for a divorce. He wasn’t surprised how everything turned out after his absence and he had no intention of breaking his relationship with his wife and friends that he had to leave behind. Divorce went through but Ulysses kept his crew together.  One day a man arrived with some interesting news from Italy that shook everyone and changed their lives forever. You would never guess when karma will do its magic and throw all the good (and bad) deeds you have done back at you.

Karma took Ulysses and his crew back to Italy and gave them an enormous house, which they decided to run as a pensione,  as a gift. They created a life divided between Italy and England adding more people to their crew while going through life’s typical hurdles. At the end, everyone ended up living a life that they never imagined. And that goodbye that was never said 20 something years ago came back and found Ulysses…
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This is a story that takes place over a lifetime, and while the situations and circumstances that transpire are important, memorable, and achingly beautiful even in their tragic moments, it’s truly the lives of the characters themselves that make it so moving.

Ulysses was a soul to remember. He went into the war a boy and came out a changed man, but in all the right ways. He cared deeply, still saw the hope in humanity, reached out a helping hand to those in need with no thought as to how it would be repaid, and just generally had a heart the size of the globes he eventually creates. It was this heart that saw him through the bad times. It was this heart that forged a connection with a passing stranger in the midst of battle that would carry forward with him all his days, and turn into a friendship most cherished. It was this heart that even while breaking, carried on, staying strong for those that needed him. My own heart broke for him when tragedy struck time and time again, but it was his desire to see things through, to move forward from those dark times that made you believe it would all work out in the end.

Alys we get to know and love as small child through tumultuous teen years and into her young adulthood.  She had a rough start in life and was given every reason to feel ultimately rejected, but I truly believed what saved her at every turn...was love.  She had an old soul, and understood so much more than someone her age would normally, but the love that surrounded her, no matter how nontraditionally woven, was her safety net.  It was what she felt deep down and knew even in those questioning days that she could fall back on without glancing back to be sure of its presence.  

Cress was oddly enough, another heart at the center point of this tale.  You don't expect it, in fact, he comes off as rather unusual and eccentric, with no particular background to speak of, but experience in life has a lot to say for itself.  He reminds us that we all have roots, and the world is constantly trying to show us that fact, while telling us in its own subtle ways, which blow of the wind to follow; if only we'd LISTEN.  He listens.  He listens enough for them all at most times, and from the moment he ran after them as they drove out of town, two bags and a smuggled soul in his hands, his impression was made on me.  In Italy, his presence takes time to accept, but once he cracks through the veneer, he's at home.  When time eventually catches up with him, you see it coming, but you FEEL it so much more...and his bow out of this world was marked with another loss that will shake you to the core, but leave you knowing it couldn't have been any other way.

Evelyn we meet once upon a war mission, but she is such a lady of stature, such a woman of heart, such a force for the art world that even though there are bombs flying through the air, she, Ulysses, and the Captain are able to make a moment that will live on in time.  Their story's part ways for many years, and we get to know them apart in their own worlds as time ticks by, but when the moment is finally right, their reunion is that much more precious, that much more appreciated, and cherished.  You can see how the puzzle pieces fit together to make such a masterpiece, something to be gazed upon and contemplated as to how we can achieve those types of relationships in our lives.

Claude was the mouthy parrot that never said die.  He lived quite an adventurous life, and accomplished well more than any parrot I've ever known, including the ability to understand random human conversations, and dole out advice befitting the situation.  Peg was the girl that got away, and yet she and Ulysses had their moment...scattered through time, but there nonetheless.  It was obvious she trusted him with her soul, but her heart was always on the tear for something bigger, better, out there in the great wide world...which makes the lessons she learns inadvertently along the way, that much more heartbreaking.  Col could've just been the local bar owner, but he was such a big presence, along with his gentle souled daughter, Ginny. He was there when they needed him, and despite his easily raised temper, and unusual mode of transportation, he could always be counted on. 

In the end, this is a story very fitting its title...still life as observed in art, but also in the sense of even after everything happens, still life unfolds.  I know I pretty much wrote a detailed "who's who" for the story, but there are still so many people you have to meet, so much more to learn about the ones I've mentioned, I promised I've overshared nothing.  If you're looking for a story that checks all the boxes, makes you think, laugh, love, and cry over a silly old bird that wasn't quite so silly, don't imitate a still life portrait; add this title to your wish list today!
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The author of the bestselling novel Tin Man returns with this sweeping historical fiction novel of Italy, war, and the beloved author E.M. Forster. Still Life was the novel of 2021 that caught me by surprise as I did not expect to fall in love with its characters and beautiful themes about life, art, and love so quickly. Be prepared to have your stomach in knots over descriptions of war and to smile as your read about the triumphs of humanity in times of despair.
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I loved this long and complex novel.  Great characters  kept my interest throughout. I highly recommend this book.
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I love these characters so much! While reading I was totally transported into their world and I dreamt of their community at night. They gave me such joy. So few books offer up a community of compassion and mutual support. The banter between these characters is delightful. I was drawn into their fun and laughed out loud. Their lives have heartbreak and grief, they struggle but struggle together in love. And they tell each other “I love you,” for these friends have cobbled together a family. An irregular family, for sure.

There is the handsome British soldier Ulysses and his wife Peg. They grew up together, and married while on a bender. They love each other, are attracted to each other, but not meant for each other. Peg fell in love with an American soldier while her husband was away and bore a love child, Alys, who looks just like her dad but has her mother’s moxy. Peg can’t forget Eddie and when Ulysses returns home, she asks for a divorce. She waits for her soldier to return to her. Ulysses becomes attached to Alys as if she were his own.

Col and Cressy own the tavern where Peg works and sometimes singing with the pianist Pete. A blue fronted Amazonian parrot named Claude lives in the bar, spouting out Shakespeare with impeccable timing. Col is a single parent with a special needs daughter. The men offer Ulysses a job.

At the end of the war, Ulysses was in Florence with fellow soldier and art historian Captain Darnley, the best man he ever knew, looking to reclaim art treasures. The older art historian Evelyn Skinner arrived to help. She first visited Florence when she was twenty, and in this city had discovered love in all it’s glory and pain. Their paths cross for just a moment in time, but they leave impressions that last lifetimes.

Ulysses becomes a hero when he saves the life of a man preparing to jump from a building. Arturo is grateful and, unknown to Ulysses, wills his savior his entire estate.

Upon Arturo’s death, Ulysses returns to Florence to claim his legacy. Peg asks him to take Alys with him, as he is the better ‘parent’. At the last moment, Cress joins them, with the parrot secured in a false bottomed suitcase. Cress has won a fortune on a lucky bet. (Lucky bets change fortunes of numerous characters!) The three become an unusual family.

Ulysses makes a deep friendship with Massimo, who has handled the estate. They have two floors, and decide to turn one floor into a pensione. The ex-pats are periodically joined by Pete, Peg, and Col. The heartbroken Peg becomes involved with a wealthy man who treats her badly. Alys blossoms although her relationship with her mother is always strained and distant.

Over the years, Ulysses and Evelyn think of each other and even pass each other on the street. After a horrific flood, people come from all over to help clean up and rescue art works and books. One is Evelyn’s student and he becomes friends with Alys.

Florence is beautifully described, the architecture and landscape, the people, and especially the art. “Beautiful art opens our eyes to the beauty of the world, Evelyn proclaims. “Captures forever that which is fleeting.” War’s toll on Florence, and in Britain, is portrayed; after an explosion, Claude lost all this feathers and went silent. The filthy, ruined rooms where priceless art is found in the rubble of the war. The changes over time, culminating in a disastrous flood.

And–E. M. Forster makes an appearance in the story! His novel A Room With a View, a novel about changing social norms and embracing passion, is constantly referenced. Darnley reminds Evelyn of Forster.

Ulysses is a hero in so many ways. Saving Arturo’s life. Raising Alys. His deep friendships, his acceptance of people as they are, blessing them with the courage to be themselves. While others find love–Col, Cressy, Alys, even Massimo–he remains alone but for moments with Peg and a few kisses and touching of hands with a local woman. Peg has waited for a man she believed would return; Ulysses has mourned a man he knew would never return.

This is the story of love, every kind of love. Between friends, between ex-lovers, between women and between men. And I found myself swelling with love as I read. I wanted to live in this world. Florence, the birthplace of the Renaissance, and Forster’s novel of social changes, reflect the theme of this novel and it’s nearly utopian, ideal world.

I received a free egalley from the publisher through NetGalley. My review is fair and unbiased
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Still Life is a beautifully rendered story of love and life and memories, set in Florence and London. I almost put it down when I realized it was over 450 pages but then I was completely swept up in the story and the characters, Sarah Winman is becoming a favorite author!
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Loved, loved, LOVED this novel. Ulysses has my heart! And Cress! and even Peg. If you love a good family saga, you're going to love this one. I will say that the first 2 or 3 chapters had a way different feel to them, and I nearly set it down. Glad I didn't!
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“Still Life” is a riveting story spanning from the mid 1940’s (World War 2) to the late 1970’s.  These wonderful characters whose lives intertwined is set in Florence, Italy!  It takes the reader into the world of the Arts and Poetry, as the lives of Peg, Ulysses, Col, Cassy, Massimo, Alys, and Evelyn, revolve around each other in love, heartache and beauty!  .
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A book that perfectly captures the essence of what Florence is for visitors who step off the train at Santa Maria Novella and see the light, the beauty, the history, and feel that anything is possible. I so quickly fell in love with Ulysses and Evelyn and the eclectic group of people they end up bringing together from all walks of life (and, of course, Claude, the profound parrot). Following them all through the decades as they build lives, figure out who they are, and what they mean to each other was a joy. Meanwhile, we see Florence during the destruction of WWII, then rebuilt from the rubble only to see it destroyed again in the flood of 1966--catastrophic events that ultimately bring people together for the love of a city and each other. A beautiful book I'll return to whenever I need to visit Florence for a few hours.
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This book is a love letter to Florence, Italy, its art, and inhabitants. An ode to chance encounters, love and found family. A delightful story of a tender-hearted English soldier and an eccentric art historian who serendipitously meet on the outskirts of Florence towards the end of WWII. Filled with lovable characters and gorgeous prose, this is not a book to miss. 

For readers of E.M. Forster and The Offing by Benjamin Myers
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Sarah Winman has offered her readers a host of unforgettable characters in Still Life.  Each character stands as an individual but each is connected in some way to Peg.  Peg’s understated influence on the others drives the various plots.  I wanted to learn more about Peg, but some things will be revealed over the course of the novel.  Add to this the settings of Florence, Italy along with London and the reader will not be left wanting.  One unique aspect of the book features Ulysses carrying on the family business of creating globes.  This seems particularly poignant as each of the characters ventures through the earthly ups and downs of life.
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What a fantastic story and romp through Florence! I loved this one!

This is mainly a character driven story, with the main characters being Ulysses Temper and Evelyn Skinner. They meet in 1944 in a ruined wine cellar in a Tuscan villa.

Ulysses is a young solider, Evelyn a sexagenarian on a mission to salvage paintings from the ruins.

They form an unlikely bond, and Evelyn’s talk of truth and beauty will plant a seed in Ulysses that will shape his life over the next four decades.

A story of warmth, loves gained and loves lost, hope, humanity, family and above all, a love letter to Italy.*
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Thank you NetGalley and the publisher for the advanced copy of this book.
The writing was so childish, I felt like I was reading Dick and Jane.  I'm sure it could have been a good book if it were written for adults.
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This is a story about two people and how their meeting affects their lives for over four decades. Their lives intertwine with the history of the times, including war and art. I liked the writing, the characters and the plot. My only problem with it was that is was way too long. Otherwise, a very interesting and enjoyable read.
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Whenever I attempt to gather and describe my thoughts in any coherent way about a piece of music, a film or a book that has moved me as much as this, I’m always plagued by a similar fear that Evelyn, our beloved spinster/art historian/WWII spy(?) describes: “She would never be able to explain her gratitude without it sounding patronising and slight.” So in the hopes of sounding neither patronising nor slight in any way, I’ll just simply say that I have such a lot of gratitude for this wonderful book. For all of Sarah Winman’s writing, for that matter.
	I’ve never met characters that I have loved and cared for as deeply as her’s, across all of her novels. But there is something particularly special about this rather beautifully-motley, partially avian crew. I’m so devastated to part with them and would have very warmly welcomed them into my life for 450 more pages.
	This is a book about the quiet moments and encounters that become the most treasured pages of our lives; about the light that small gestures of love and kindness, of seeing one another, lets into them. This book has opened my windows in quite a few ways. Some which have been dirty for quite some time now. It’s changed the way I view my craft. It’s changed the way I want to live.
	I can’t really conjure anything better to say than that Still Life does what, in my opinion, all of the very best writing does at its core—shows you that the best way to live is with an open mind and an open heart.
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Winman’s prose is art! The book spans the years from 1944 into the 1970s, giving the reader an intimate look at both the everyday, and the overarching history of both London and Florence that serves as framework for the characters lives. Winman makes the history so much more meaningful by not over telling, but by letting Ulysses and Evelyn’s unusual, but abiding 
friendship unfold. The novel is rich with supporting characters as well, including a Shakespeare quoting Amazonian parrot!  Nods to E.M. Forster’s A Room with a View. A novel to be savored!
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